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Goats might be the new defense against buckthorn

The Creation Restoration club has teamed with Bethel professors to provide an innovative solution to the invasive species.

The Creation Restoration club has teamed with Bethel professors to provide an innovative solution to the invasive species.

By Elena Vaughn

Buckthorn has been a prickly problem on campus for about 40 years, but now members of the biology department and the Creation Restoration club are proposing a new solution – goats.

Professors Jeff Port, Amy Dykstra, Sara Wyse and Paula Soneral, all from the biology department, are leading the project.

The plan is to bring the goats on campus in May when buckthorn starts growing and keep them munching all over campus until the season ends in September. If the project succeeds this year, it will be repeated in following years.

But what’s buckthorn and why is it a problem?

Buckthorn is a short, green, leafy shrub that composes most of the undergrowth in Bethel’s natural areas. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Europeans brought the non-native species to Minnesota more than 100 years ago with plans to use it as hedging material.

Buckthorn proved to be a problem for Minnesota forests. It shades and kills smaller plants and its seeds germinate quickly. Simply cutting it down doesn’t help – it resprouts from the roots.

The project is helmed by biology professor Jeff Port with assistance from the student Creation Restoration club, which has helped in cleaning trash off campus and promoting green initiatives.

Port credits the idea to conversations with professors Amy Dykstra, Sara Wyse and Paula Soneral. These professors have all been working on different aspects of this project, from writing the project proposal to talking to farmers to preparing the land and building a pen.

TUnfortunately, the warm freshwater climate of Bethel is extremely conducive to buckthorn.

“Nearly everything under 20 feet tall is buckthorn,” Port said. “That means when our mature native trees on campus die at some point, there will only be buckthorn left.”  

Most likely the goats will be in the woods behind the Scandia Chapel, an area that has a high incidence of buckthorn and is more sheltered.

According to Port, the proposal still needs to be discussed and finalized with facilities management. After that, the team will need to start courting goats to find the right four to six goats for the project.

Goats are relatively docile and social animals and project facilitators will be selecting animals that are acclimated to people.

When will Bethel see them?

Port says it could be as early as May, when the buckthorn starts to grow again.

In the meantime, Port and his colleagues are working closely with goat herd owners to ensure the safety of the goats – and the people – while they’re on campus.

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